Community activists are holding a rally Wednesday outside a Winnipeg warehouse that used to belong to fashion designer Peter Nygard, amid allegations he raped or sexually assaulted dozens of women around the world.
“Powerful men such as Nygard are able to use their money and influence to avoid accountability,” said Vivienne Ho, organizer of the #TimesUpNygard rally.
Ho is the president of CUPE local 2348, and the founder of Women’s March Winnipeg. Both groups will be at the rally Wednesday at 4 p.m., alongside Workers United Canada Council, Migrante Manitoba and Winnipeg Youth United.
They don’t have a connection to Nygard or his alleged victims, but Ho says they want to publicly support survivors of sexual abuse.
“In the era of #MeToo, we are following in the footsteps of so many others around the world to believe women and survivors, and to raise our voices and protest in the street to call for [an] end to sexual violence,” she said.
Until recently, the property at 1340 Notre Dame Ave. was owned by Nygard Properties Ltd., one of nine Nygard companies under court-ordered receivership since March to pay back millions in unpaid debts. The property was sold in June but Nygard’s name and image are still on the buildings.
“The failure of our city to hold Peter Nygard accountable for his actions has led to the further victimization of many more women and children in the Bahamas who are now filing a class action lawsuit against him,” said Ho.
Fifty-seven women have joined a class-action lawsuit filed in New York in February, accusing the 79-year-old fashion designer of rape and sexual assault dating back to the 1970s. On Friday, a judge put the case on hold while the FBI investigates allegations Nygard sexually trafficked some of his alleged victims.
Police in Canada and the Bahamas are also investigating Nygard. No charges have been laid against him, and, through his spokespeople, Nygard continues to deny the allegations.
CBC News has spoken with 10 women who say they were raped by Nygard spanning decades. Nygard has denied all of it, saying all the allegations are made up.
‘Time’s up, has been up for a very long time’
“This is a decades-old, fairly common knowledge around Peter Nygard as a serial sexual predator,” said Leslie Spillett, a prominent Winnipeg Indigenous activist who will be speaking at the rally.
“It’s time’s up, time’s up, has been up for a very long time in this city,” she said.
In the 1980s Spillett was a union representative for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which had members working in some of Nygard’s factories. She says while none of her members reported being sexually assaulted, there were always rumours about Nygard’s treatment of women.
“There is a certain blindness, if you will, to the objectification of women’s bodies,” said Spillett.
“That’s how it’s taken decades for it to come out … he had a place of power in this community.”
Spillett says society idolizes people like Hugh Hefner, and only recently have powerful men like Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby been arrested and charged for sexual violence against women.
“Misogyny has held power. White misogyny, I should add, has held power in this culture for generations,” said Spillett.
She says women are reluctant to come forward because, historically, police departments and the legal system haven’t always been on the side of female victims.
“When you hear about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, often the spotlight is not on the people that have raped and killed individuals, but on, you know, what were the women doing at the time?” said Spillett.
Organizers of the rally want that to change.
“We want to break the stigma and silence that surround sexual violence and take a public stance against it,” said Ho.
Ho says she volunteered at a sexual assault crisis program for four years and saw firsthand the effects sexual violence has on women.
“I want Winnipeg to know that we are a supportive community, and we need to believe and support survivors,” said Ho. “We want to let them know that this is safe to come forward and report it and there will be support.”
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